Reviews Xiu Xiu Fabulous Muscles

Xiu Xiu

Fabulous Muscles

This is the first time I've ever managed to find the perfect soundtrack for an art exhibit. After viewing a collection called "Late Modern European Prints," and listening to Fabulous Muscles on the drive back, I realized that both works were attempting to challenge the limits of creative representation in order to show that when said challenging occurs, art can be as complex as life itself. Perhaps I'm going too far with comparing the tortured genius of Jamie Stewart to the likes of Magritte, Dali, and Picasso, but bear with my obligatory pre-review analogy that barely relates to the album in question. Although the exhibit never made clear its intentions, I noticed that most of the artwork attempted to expand artistic conventions and blur the line between the representative and the abstract. In a way, Xiu Xiu once again challenge art and life as we know it by undergoing a sonic transformation that seems to be a requirement for every new album they make. From what I saw, every piece in the exhibit retained a small quality of the recognizable, and still managed to be new and shocking in the time periods they were created. Something as simple as a pink fleshtone on a muscian's hand would completely alter the work's aesthetic value by introducing something that is familiar to us. With Fabulous Muscles, Xiu Xiu is obviously still doing what they do best, annihilating our audial preconceptions, but they do so in such a graceful manner that it might be hard to realize.

Xiu Xiu exhibit control over their experiment unlike anything I've heard in a while. Guitars and bass still comprise the soul of the song, but tape loops, simple keyboard licks, spastic and uncertain saxophone lines (as heard in "Bunny Gamer"), and uncomfortable and emotionally complex vocals (Stewart's voice is perhaps the only link between Xiu Xiu's albums, because everything else changes drastically) add copious amounts of blood, semen, and tears, all of which can be DNA tested and proven to be Xiu Xiu's and nobody else's.

The opener, "Crank Heart," kicks off with bouncing keyboard notes, which begin to careen and twist around each other with simultaneous abandon and direction, but they mesh together very well, allowing Stewart's brash and throaty vocals to blanket over the other instruments perfectly. Contrary to my theory that the majority of albums' second tracks can never measure up to the first track, because all bands like to start and end their albums strong, "I Luv the Valley OH!" tops "Sad Pony Guerilla Girl" as Xiu Xiu's very best song. The guitars are fuzzy yet delicately strummed throughout, while distorted drums and various percussion accomodate the vocals to create a perfect composition. Another highlight is the title track, whose lyrics especially remind the listener that yes, this is a Xiu Xiu album. Stewart can work just as well in harmony as he can carry a song with just his voice. Simple strumming in "Fabulous Muscles" is used to lay a surreal backdrop for a lyrical onslaught that makes use of Stewart's most delicate vocal delivery to date. Xiu Xiu constantly proves that their strongest suit is stark musical contrast, and it's plain as day in "Fabulous Muscles."

When you become known for being a constant enterprise of reinvention, what do you do when you reach the limits of experimentation? Only somebody with the ambition and foresight as Stewart could manage to push the infinite boundaries of experimentation by gradually making his music more accessible. Fabulous Muscles seems to be the culmination of that constant effort, and I'm really wondering how Xiu Xiu are going (that's right, are going) to top this. I'll admit that 2002's Knife Play, while obviously unique and universally praised, didn't really grab me - it was too chaotic. 2003's A Promise was simultaneously being one of the edgiest and most enjoyable albums of the year, and its subdued experimental gems (see the outstanding opener "Sad Guerilla Pony Girl") really blew me away, although his experimentation would sometimes undermine Stewart's creative control (see the notoriously stupid "Walnut House"). A fluctuating fan base is one of the risks you'll have to take; Fabulous Muscles is definitely a "take it or leave it," kind of deal, but I'd be willing to guess that most will be more than happy to take it. This album boasts some of their greatest material to date, no matter which sect of Xiudaism you belong to.

9.4 / 10Jeff
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9.4 / 10

9.4 / 10

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